What do you value?
Understanding your value system is one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
Picture the life of the average Westerner.
They roll out of bed as late as possible, do the bare minimum each morning to make themselves presentable, and show up at work.
After eight or so hours of unenthusiastically grinding through the workday, they head home to perform a combination of eating and staring at a screen until they go to sleep and repeat the same process the next day.
Since you’re reading this, I doubt you resemble the average Westerner.
You likely wake up earlier than you need to so you can meditate, journal, and maybe even exercise before heading to work.
And your evenings are probably filled with nutritious food, quality time spent with those you love, walks in nature, and reading and learning.
So, what’s the difference between the average Westerner and you?
Your value system.
Your parents may have instilled it in you.
You might have consciously and carefully formed it over time.
Or maybe you’ve never thought about it until now and just got lucky by inherently possessing solid values.
Either way, understanding your values and their rank, what it means to embody them, and attuning yourself to how they change over time is critical to living a life of joy, love, and fulfilment.
Those who are unable to live out their values often wallow in misery, regret, and resentment.
So, taking the time to understand your values is one of the best investments you’ll ever make…
4 Critical Lessons I Learned While Understanding My Value System
Lesson #1: Trade-offs are essential to happiness and success
You might value 100 different things.
But if you want any chance at constructing a life that lives by even one of those 100 values, you must deprioritize most of them and rank order the few essential ones that remain.
It’s impossible to create a day that equally tends to even five values, let alone 100.
Contrary to the belief that society feeds us, we simply don’t have time for everything.
Don’t believe me?
Try to be a marathon runner, an outstanding role model to your kids, a supporting and loving spouse, a worldwide traveller, and a weekly volunteer while progressing rapidly in your chosen career.
You may value all of those things, but if you try to attempt them all at once you are guaranteed to achieve none of them.
Trade-offs are critical. You can value lots of things, but not all at once.
Distilling your values down to three core values (ONLY three!) enables you to navigate your life in accordance with what matters most while eliminating the merely “good” options.
This is not to say that trade-offs are easy.
You will have to make really hard decisions to get down to three core values. I sure did when I was going through this process.
Even then you will find that your three core values are constantly conflicting throughout the day (which leads to Takeaway #2).
Between those three, you must determine which one will rank above the others when faced with a conflicting decision.
The reality is that you cannot be, do, or have everything.
You must choose the fantastic few options from thousands of attractive alternatives.
Making your trade-offs deliberately ensures that you end up with the outcomes that best align with your values.
Priorities are hard, but to achieve any sense of success or happiness you must choose.
If you don’t deliberately decide then someone else will for you.
And there’s no quicker path to misery and regret than someone else calling the shots of your life.
Lesson #2: Values can inform your decisions
Understanding your values can make seemingly difficult decisions easy.
Next time you’re faced with a difficult choice simply ask yourself, “What do I value most?” and choose the option that best aligns with your value hierarchy.
For example, one of my core values is physical health.
This makes it really easy to turn down parties on Saturday nights where I know booze will be the main focus.
In fact, I hardly need to think about it.
My answer is no 99% of the time.
Lesson #3: It’s not what you care about vs. what you don’t care about
Determining your core values doesn’t mean distinguishing what you care about versus what you don’t care about.
Rather, it’s a matter of separating what you care about from what you care about most.
Trade-offs are difficult but essential.
To create the best version of yourself and the life you want, you must eliminate many appealing options to make space for a few extraordinary ones – the ones you value most.
Lesson #4: Definitions vary from person to person
Communication might be your top value.
But how I define it may be completely different from what it means to you.
This is especially important in navigating relationships.
Once you know the core values of someone important to you, ask them what living in accordance with those values looks like to them.
Understanding what the people in your life value will allow you to successfully navigate and enhance your relationship with them.
3 Methods To Determine Your Value System
In crystallizing my own value hierarchy over the last month, I’ve experimented with different methods of self-analysis.
Combining Method #2 and #3 below has been the most insightful for me.
Method #1: Online Value Tests
There are a ton of online value assessments.
This list is nowhere close to exhaustive but includes the online assessments I’ve tried.
Online Assessment #1: Personal Values – personalvalu.es
All-encompassing selection of 62 values to choose from.
The results provide concise definitions of your top five values.
It’s free, quick to complete, and doesn’t ask for personal information.
The initial selection process requires you to pick 10 values from a list of 62. Comparing 62 data points in one step is difficult for our Sapien brains to process (especially mine).
The results spit out your top five values which, as I mentioned above, is too many. Cut it down to three.
Online Assessment #2: Personal Values Assessment – Gyfted
Provides a ranking of your top values with a useful visualization.
It’s free and doesn’t ask for personal information.
I didn’t like the questions they asked in this assessment but this might just be a personal preference.
They only consider 10 values which, in my opinion, lack the specificity required to use your values to drive decisions.
If you’re interested in going deeper, this assessment is based on Schwartz’s theory of basic values.
Online Assessment #3: Valued Living Questionnaire (VLQ)
The VLQ forces you to compare your actions to your ideals. After ranking 10 values on a scale of 1-10 based on what you believe is most important, you have to perform the same ranking based on how well your actions aligned with those values in the past week.
The 10 values they use offer a helpful structure to think about your life roles.
Since the assessment only considers 10 values, you might feel that one of your core values is not captured.
Method #2: The Val-You Game
I met Jordana, a clinical counsellor and the co-founder of Val-You, and her husband in Salento, Colombia while hiking last October.
She sent me a copy of the Val-You Game and after playing it both alone and with my family over the holidays, I loved it.
The Val-You Game comes with 55 cards, each containing a value, and pre- and post-discussion questions.
The goal of the game is to help players develop an awareness and understanding of their values and insight into how they can live in alignment with their core values.
My family and I really enjoyed the structure of the game because it forces you to look inside yourself, ask uncomfortable questions, and make really hard trade-offs.
Since you can only hold onto your top three value cards at once, you can’t avoid the challenging self-reflection necessary to determine and rank your values.
By the way, I have zero financial incentive for you to buy this game.
Method #3: Self-reflection through journaling
The Internet has hundreds of articles suggesting prompts, questions, and processes to help you determine your values.
If you choose to go this route, here are some high-quality sources to get started:
Core Values List – James Clear (1 minute)
Let Your Values Drive Your Choices – James Clear (4 minutes)
Actions, not words, reveal our real values – Derek Sivers (2 minutes)
Living according to your hierarchy of values – Derek Sivers (1 minute)
Just remember, you cannot live in accordance with 10 values at once. Or even five.
You must be ruthless and cut the list down to three.
And then within those three, rank order them.
If you aren’t deliberate in designing your life around three core values at once in fear of not encompassing the other seven values you also care about, you will end up living in accordance with none of them.
Be specific and selective.
Prioritize and conquer.
That’s it, folks!
I hope you found value in (no pun intended) this week's newsletter.
Finish the week strong and have a fantastic weekend.
Determining your values up-front is hard work up-front, that makes everything else easier.
Once figure them out, it's much easier to make decisions and trade-offs as they either support your values, or don't.